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A Westport Island Native Son at Gettysburg

Looking back on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

Eighteen-year old William McKinney (McKenny) was the first Westport Islander to enlist in the Civil War. On August 2, 1862, he mustered into Company K, 19th Regiment of the Maine Volunteer Infantry.

Just under a year later, on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, McKinney was wounded in the chest. He was transferred to Washington, DC for recuperation and then transferred into Company F, 24th Regiment of the Veteran’s Reserve Corp. The Reserve Corp allowed partially disabled soldiers to serve light duty and freed able-bodies soldiers for the front lines.

McKinney served with the 1st Brigade U.S. Veterans Reserve Department 22nd Corp. This brigade defended the Capitol during Confederate Commander Jubal Early’s offensive in the Shenandoah Valley from July to November 1864. This campaign, ultimately unsuccessful, was an effort to secure railroad lines and provisions to support the Virginia-based confederate forces and to take pressure off General Lee’s forces. McKinney served at the battle near Fort Stevens when General Early attempted a raid on Washington, DC on July 11-12, 1864. Early was repelled and forced to withdraw back to Virginia.

McKinney later served in the Guard of President Lincoln during his 2nd inauguration March 4, 1865 and was assigned to the search for John Wilkes Booth and other conspirators on April 22, 1865. He was honorably discharged July 28, 1865.

In 1994, McKinney’s great grandniece, Alyn Jewett McNeish, proudly wrote in a letter, now in the possession of the History Committee:

…we have his record, which is a long one, framed and hanging in our home along with the rifle he carried (hanging over our kitchen fireplace). Sitting beside the rifle in frames are two pieces of confederate money he brought home. ..

McKinney served Westport Island in other ways on his return from military service. He was town clerk from 1901-1904; postmaster from 1889 (probably until 1904 when he died); one of five proprietors of the Union Meeting House (the Town Hall) who gave the building to the town in 1885; and the proprietor of a store at Main and Post Office Roads established about 1870, selling candy, needles, thread, shoe laces, calico, school supplies, tobacco, fish lines and patent medicines. In 1994, his grandniece still had the apothecary jars McKinney used for penny candy in his store which she used as cookie jars.

William McKinney is one of many who have contributed to “big history” on a “little island”…

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